A Nice Start to the French Riviera
“Vous êtes arrives à la gare de Nice!” are the exact words you would hear stepping out of the train and into the station of the French Riviera’s capital. Whichever direction you are arriving from, it’s hard not to notice the stunning landscape of the region. The city itself is the attraction. There’s no Eiffel Tower, no Big Ben, nary a Gothic Cathedral in sight. So what is there? Beauty, energy and charm. From the cerulean sea to dining on fresh seafood at a plein-air café to staring at the art-deco facades and fabulous people, this is the Nice at its nicest.
Not that there aren’t tourist attractions. Stop and smell the blooms at the Cours Saleya Flower Market. Inspect the canvases of Matisse at the eponymous museum. Nice is only second to Paris in the number of museums and galleries it holds. Just pick your pleasure and pack your artistic eye.
Explore Vieux Nice (or Old Town) by foot and you will be charmed by a maze of narrow streets in between French Mediterranean architecture. Close by is the Place Massena, a vibrant square with shops and restaurants along the pedestrian zone of Rue Messina. From here, you’re right next door to the infamous Promenade d’Anglais where people watching is an art form. This spot is what really epitomizes not only Nice, but the entire Cote d’Azur. Splurge on a royal blue chaise lounge and let waiters bring you amuse bouche. If you’re looking to save money, go to a crepe vendor and take your sweet or savory treat to the rock-strewn beach. Smell the air – that’s the deliciously briny water of the Mediterranean.
Nice is just the starting point to the rest of the French Riviera. With your France Rail Pass, easily hop to other seaside cities and towns without the hassle of traffic and reading signs in French. The town of Villefranche-sur-Mer is just a few minutes away. The beautiful bay is a haven for yachts and has been the sight for countless movies. Which brings us to Cannes, just 30 minutes away from Nice with the TGV. Known the world over for its glamorous Film Festival, you too can be part of the glitterati. Stroll La Croisette, the waterfront avenue lined with palm trees wearing oversized sunglasses, secretely staring at the surrounding excess.
No stranger to excess, the principality of Monaco is just a 20 minutes train ride from Nice. Although the population is a mere 3,000, the city of Monte Carlo swells with tourists who come for the glam, glitz and casino. Racing enthusiast? The Formula One Monaco Grand Prix is the event of the season.
The South of France may be a hub of luxury and overindulgence, but in between the famous and infamous, you’ll find (very lucky) locals living their everyday lives.
To learn more about preparing your trip to France, visit Atout France by clicking here if you’re a US resident or here if you’re a Canadian resident
Contributed by: Mick, Rail Europe French Bilingual Staff, studied in France and became a nomad backpacker in Europe.